Monday, April 30, 2012

What? There Is A YA Blogging Community?

Yes, I'm embarrassed to say that it came to my attention only very recently that there is a community of YA litbloggers separate from children's litbloggers. You can find a...ah...few...of them at YA Book Blog Directory.

Interesting Thoughts About An Ugly Situation

Even if you know nothing about the recent plagiarism case that's been big news in the YA blogging community, My Three Cents On The Story Siren Plagiarism Case at Read, React, Review is a marvelous post on issues relating to it. The philosophy professor who maintains this blog covers:

1. The difference between a personal apology and a restorative apology.

2. Bloggers who don't believe blogging is writing. (My own three cents is that perhaps they should be doing something else.)

3.In response to some of the responses to this case--"I’m sorry to see some women participate so eagerly in a tradition that casts women as morally stunted, selfish children, unable to think past their own out of control emotions"

Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's Only Noon, And We're Done

Do you not love my blog's new look? Is it not most becoming? If you've read Curse of the Wolf Girl by Martin Millar, you'll get that reference. If you haven't, you can assume I'm very pleased with my computer guy's handiwork.

This is at least the second complete overhaul we've done of Original Content over its lifetime.There has also been lots of tweaking over the years. Still, it's a ten-year-old blog, and in blog years, that's old. Plus Computer Guy did some custom work on it. So last year, when I joined Facebook and decided I wanted to put Facebook buttons on my posts so that readers could easily share what passes for wit and wisdom here, the task was easier said than done, because OC was an old and nonconforming dog unwilling to learn a new trick. The easiest way to do the job was a whole new template, which Computer Guy has already customized. (Because, you know, neither one of us believes there is a well enough that ought to be left alone.) We may find some kinks that need to be dealt with, but right now things seem to be working.

As it turns out, I think the new look is more contemporary. A problem with an Internet presence is that it doesn't take long for whatever you've done to become dated. With writers we're writers. Not only are most of us not web specialists, ourselves, we may not be able to spend enough time on-line to notice that our carefully created and maintained efforts are creeping toward the Internet equivalent of mom jeans.

So while I'm very happy with Original Content's new look, I'm not foolhardy enough to believe it's permanent. So long as OC and I are around and active, we will be changing. But for now, I find my blog's new look most becoming.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What's Going To Happen Tomorrow?

I am booked with computer guy to work on making changes to this blog tomorrow. In the past, blog changes have not gone well. In fact, I received this message from CG relating to tomorrow's plan: "I don't think the blog will take all that long. it is either going to work smoothly or not at all."

Hope you'll hear from me tomorrow. Or maybe the next day.

Friday, April 27, 2012

"Minette's Feast" Blog Tour Coming Up

The blog tour for Minette's Feast by Susannah Reich begins on Monday at Booktalking. It will be stopping here on Friday.

Only One "E"

I'm going to push on and take care of the blogs with "E" names at the NESCBWI site, because there's only one person with an "E" name, though he has two blogs.

David Elzey has an excellent review blog, The Excelsior File, that I've been familiar with for years. Many children's litbloggers write, essentially, book recommendations, because they have a policy of only posting "positive" reviews. Nothing wrong with recommending books. David Elzey's reviews are more like literary criticism, though. He is not a fanboy.

He has another blog, fomagrams, that is new to me. It includes his reading list for the two years he was working on his MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults.

I think I have something like 50 NESCBWI blogs left to visit. I must think two or three times before starting a project like this again.

And Now For More Of The Letter "D"

That's "D" as in NESCBWI blogs from authors whose names begin with the letter "D."

First up, Betsy Devany's blog entitled...Betsy Devany's Blog. Betsy appears to be a pre-published NESCBWI member. She has been a finalist and had an honorable mention manuscript for the Tassy Walden Awards. That's a bigger deal here in Connecticut than in other parts of the world, so for those of you who don't know, Tassy Walden winners have gone on to publication. According to Betsy's blog, she attends a lot of writer events. She's got a lot on last weekend's NESCBWI conference.

Ann Marie DiVecchia has three blogs, all relating to art. Only one of them has been updated since last summer, Smells Like Crayons, a group blog for nine New Hampshire and Maine illustrators.

Marissa Doyle, who writes who historical and romantic fiction "with a magical twist," is a contributor to an interesting looking blog, Nineteen Teen Being a Teen in the Nineteenth Century. Recently, they've done posts on "the Grand Tour," a term those of us who read Georgette Heyer in our youth will be familiar with, and Queen Victoria's pets.

BroccoliPower hasn't been updated in around a year and a half and only had around 6 posts before then. It was going to be a journal about finding a publisher for a manuscript.

And that concludes the letter "D."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Maurice Sendak Makes A Top Ten List

That's The 10 Grumpiest Living Writers, I'm talking about. I am greatly relieved to see that children's literature is represented.

Thank goodness I liked SFWA's Writer Beware on Facebook. It is a source of great info.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Thirty-Minute Author Appearance--What I Did And What I Saw

Today was my third morning visiting a student writers' group, and my first time actually conferencing with students. I've only published two short stories over the years, but I have done a lot of self-study of the form. Thank goodness. I'd hate to have had to talk with those fifth graders without having some knowledge of what we were all doing there.

While I was waiting for the young writers to get their juice and muffins and settle down to work, I took a look at the fiction baskets in the classroom. I saw a number of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Judy Moody books. I also saw several volumes of a series I'd never heard of--Dear Dumb Diary by Jim Benton, who has remarkably little to say about himself at his website. Turns out I have heard of him, though, because he has another series called Franny K. Stein, one volume of which I read years ago.

These writers' group visits of mine are interesting because they take so little time. I'm only there half an hour. We're talking 7:45 to 8:45 AM, so I do have to get cleaned up for the day earlier than I'm used to. What with making sure I have something decent to wear and putting on makeup so I don't  frighten any young ones, I probably spend more time getting ready to go then I spend there.

But, still, I'm home by 8:30 after doing a little writer talking with writers, though very short ones.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Time "Lost" To Work That Doesn't Make The Cut

Nowadays, writers who hope to come close to making a living at writing or just to maintain a career find ourselves on an assembly line. Because books go out of print faster than in days of old, we can't rely on even a small income from backlisted books. Neither can publishers. We have to write more and publishers have to publish more to replace the out-of-print books that aren't generating income. Because the market is flooded with new books each year from traditional publishers making up for what they consider to be last year's misses, it's harder to get attention for individual titles. Publishers aren't necessarily doing less book promotion--they're still putting out their catalogs and sending out ARCs and sales people--it's just that's no longer enough. So writers are getting pulled into marketing their own work as well as producing it, extending the amount of time they need to stay on that assembly line.

Writing process, revision, agent searches, submissions, relationships with editors, getting bookmarks printed, planning conference presentations, book trailers--the list of subjects writers think and write and talk about relating to our work goes on and on. And it's all related to keeping our assembly lines moving.

In May's issue of Real Simple, author A. J. Jacobs brings up something in his article, Can You Get More Creative? that writers don't talk about a lot. He interviewed Rex Jung, a professor of neuro-surgery, specializing in the brain and creativity. He told Jacobs "...that we tend to think of creative people as churning out one work of genius after another, but brilliance is a numbers game. Creative people tend to be prolific, and usually the misfires far outnumber the hits." Jacobs concludes, "Embrace the suck, for the suck is part of the process."

Anne Lamott became famous for either coining or popularizing the phrase "shitty first drafts." But that word "first" implies that we'll be able to turn the material into something that is no longer shitty. I think Jacobs and Jung are talking about something more. I think they're talking about work that can't be salvaged at all or needs so much revision that the "shitty first draft" may not even look like a draft of the finished product. The ratio of unusable material to publishable work is often very, very high. This is probably what would qualify as writers' dirty little secret--a lot of what we produce does, indeed, suck.

Unfortunately, suck brings assembly lines to a screeching halt. How do we schedule that into our time management plans?

Monday, April 23, 2012

I'm Not Going To Fixate On Insignificant Details, I'm Not Going To Fixate On Insignficant Details

In Camp, A Harness, Entrapment, And Friends, author Jo Knowles writes about her experience at this weekend's NESCBWI Conference. So what do I want to dwell on in that entire post? Her mention of Adrian Mole. It was all I could do not to post a comment and say something like, "Hey, Jo, did you notice how much Bridget Jones is like Adrian Mole? And you know Adrian Mole came first, right? At least the teenage books? What do you think of that?"

But I controlled myself because that was not at all what Jo's post was actually about. I am capable of paying attention and getting the big picture. Or, at least, I'm capable of pretending I am.

By the way, I've read somewhere in the last few years that Helen Fielding has said Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole was, indeed, an influence on Bridget. Though I don't recall where now.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Computer Guy Went Into A Writers' Conference And...

Well, I dragged my computer guy to the last day of this year's NESCBWI Conference, and we both survived to tell the tale. Though I, of course, am the one who is telling it.

We arrived in time for him to become properly caffeinated, and then hit the It's a Great Time for Nonfiction panel. Though he was suitably impressed with the achievements of the panelists, Elizabeth Partridge, Tanya Lee Stone, and Susan Campbell Bartoletti, as well as with their commitment to research, what really struck him was the similarity between the panel and one he saw when he attended a Twilight Zone Convention a few years back. Do not laugh. I, too, have noted the similarities between that Twilight Zone Convention and literary events I've attended.

Next, we hit Making E-books From Scratch: How to Stop Worrying and Love HTML with Brendan Gannon. Computer Guy already loves HTML, but this session was why he was at the conference. No way I was going to that by myself. Ten minutes in, I turned to him and whispered, "I'm already lost." CG, however, was tres, tres excited. He kept muttering, "This is huge. This is huge." At first I was afraid he meant, "This is huge" as in "There's a huge meteor coming right toward us. We have to run." But, no, he meant, "This is huge" as in "This is a huge and wonderful concept." He came away happy. This made me happy.

After lunch, we met John Bell of Oz and Ends in the flesh. I've sort of known him in a noncorporeal way for years, and I'm not just making that up, since he recognized my name when I introduced myself. Or he was most charming and gracious and just said he did.

After lunch, we hit the bookstore where I bought of copy of One Continuous Mistake by Gail Sher, which looks very zenny, and you know what a sucker I am for that kind of thing. Computer Guy was very taken with When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart and got a copy for a family member.

Then, who do we see but Lynda Mullaly Hunt, doing her second signing for her debut book? I was quite at a loss at what to talk to her about, since we usually meet at Stop & Shop. So I took her picture, along with Mitali Perkins, who was also signing today. Computer Guy already knows Lynda and felt as if he knew Mitali since he is this blog's keeper, and over the years Mitali has been mentioned or commented here.

Aaaaand I saw and hugged Susannah Richards. Computer Guy missed that.

Finally, we finished up the day with a research session conducted by Ann Malaspina and Joan Axelrod-Contrada.  They said something interesting about managing time, so I'm going to be contacting them to see if they'll elaborate on that for a Time Management Tuesday post.

CG says he'll go back to the conference next year, but only if they have another session relating to computer code. It could happen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Gender And Humor In Children's Books--Do We Ever Hear About This?

We frequently hear that boys and girls read different things. Certainly there is the old story that girls will read books about boys but that boys won't read books about girls. Children's books are definitely marketed to different genders, with sports books being considered boy books and princess stories being considered girl books. Though, personally, I'd get a kick out of seeing someone mess with those stereotypes.

But what about humor? I thought of this yesterday because I read another op-ed piece by Gina Barreca, whose academic turf is supposed to be both feminism and humor. She's been writing columns for The Hartford Courant for years. I rarely read them because she does a lot of woman vs. man stuff, which I consider so 1970s. However, her piece Stooges Funny? Don't Make Me Laugh (which is how the title appeared in print) caught my eye because, yeah, the Stooges don't make me laugh, either.

I don't know that that's necessarily because I'm a woman, as Barreca would contend. I do agree with her that there is humor that's built around jokes and humor that's built around stories. I do the story type of humor in my writing. That's why it's often hard for me to do funny readings from my books. The whole story might be threaded through a big section of a novel. The big joke in Saving the Planet & Stuff takes place in a restaurant scene toward the end of the book. You have to have pretty much read all the character development to understand why it's funny. Barreca would tell you that I write my humor through stories because I'm a woman. I can't be sure that that's the case, either.

Barreca gives Erma Bombeck as her example of an anti-Stooge story-telling female humorist. Here's the thing--I'm not a big fan of Bombeck's, either. I am totally respectful of her achievements. She was hugely successful when there were few, if any, other female humor writers. Her first book of housewife humor is supposed to have been groundbreaking, I've read, because no one else was doing it. No one else found the humor in a housewife's life. Perhaps no one else even noticed them. But it seemed to me that she eventually became pretty much a caricature of herself, writing the same kinds of things over and over again.

Isn't that what happens in Three Stooges movies?

Anyway, you do see these kinds of articles and discussions about humor and gender in relation to adults. Is anyone interested in humor and gender in relation to children's books? Are there really that many third- or fourth-grade girls who won't laugh at a fart joke? At what point do females stop thinking farting is funny? Or do they?

Of course, in children's and YA literature, we don't get a lot of nonfiction humor. I'm not aware of a lot of Erma Bombecks or Dave Barrys writing straight humor essays for younger readers. I'm wondering now, why not? Could it be done? And, if it were done, would it be humor written along gender lines?

Friday, April 20, 2012

But This Was A Grammar Rule I Actually Knew!

The audacity of "hopefully"

No, I will not use "hopefully" at the beginning of a sentence with absolutely nothing for it to modify. I have a shaky grasp of grammar, God knows, but I won't sink that far.

Blogging Is A Calling, People

Someone on Facebook tipped me off to More Companies Quit Blogging, Go With Facebook Instead in USA Today. It fascinated me for a couple of reasons.

1. Recently there was some discussion at another author's personal Facebook page regarding how effective our professional pages are. It's very possible that only a small percentage of our "Likes" actually see our posts from a business/professional/fan page (however you want to think of it). So moving to Facebook may not be the great marketing extravaganza conventional wisdom claims it to be. Though, of course, if you're a big enough company with enough followers, even if only a small percentage of them gets any particular post, you're still talking good numbers.

2. Writers are encouraged to maintain blogs. It probably makes a little more sense for us to do it then, say, Owens Corning (see the first link above). We're supposed to be able to communicate, right? Presumably a blog, for us, should be a publication site for short-form writing, thoughts, etc. That, of course, is not why we're encouraged to blog. We're encouraged to blog by publishers and marketing types because blogging is believed to be a marketing tool. Yeah, well...

Anyway, I've been to a lot of blogs, people. Checked out many, many. You've got some wildly popular writers who do have blog followings and probably can do some nifty, if not out right serious, bloggy marketing. But that's not the case with most writers. Even a few hundred followers is not going to provide a lot of sales. Or even a lot of comments and engagement. There's nothing wrong with blogging to market, but if that's why you're blogging, yeah, maybe you could use your time better somewhere else. Though I can't say that that somewhere else is necessarily Facebook.

Clearly, many of the businesses, big and small, that are leaving blogging were never really into blogging. They were looking for something else. Blogging is one of those things you really need to do for its own sake. I blog for the sake of blogging. I blog to blog. Maybe it's a zenny thing. So much in life is.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

More On The Diana Wynne Jones Celebration

A Virtual Celebration of Diana Wynne Jones in Publishers Weekly has much, much more on the DWY on-line events I wrote about last Friday.

Turns out there is Wynne Jones' publishing news, too. A reissue of Fire and Hemlock, a book I just became interested in last week, came out earlier this month. And there will be a book of Diana Wynne Jones essays this fall. I am fond of essays.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Happy Families

It just registered with me today that Original Content friend Tanita S. Davis has a new book coming out next month, Happy Families. The main characters are dealing with their father's secret, one that is revealed at other Internet sites. I'm not sure if giving it away or not is a spoiler, so, since you can almost never make a mistake keeping your mouth shut, I will.

I will say, though, that I am intrigued.

Time Management Tuesday: Or Maybe We Should Be Practicing Mindfulness With Our Writing

Last week I wrote about what I called the racing-from-task-to-task method of time management and whether or not we could apply it to writing. I've also written about the Swiss Cheese Method of time management, which involves working for small chunks of time on large projects in order to chip away at the job and get it done. I have had some success with the Swiss Cheese method; I'm not so sure about racing from task to task. But I wonder if working like this hasn't encouraged what the Zenny ones refer to as monkey mind in me. I am easily distracted and all too likely to go off on tangents during what should be my work time, anyway, and this spring, after working on a minimum of eight different work projects (Wait! Nine, counting this time management project. Should I count blogging, itself? Then we're talking ten, at a minimum),  I've been feeling particularly "restless" and "unsettled" .

Meditation is the traditional cure for monkey mind. Unfortunately, I've thrown in the towel on meditating for concentration, which may explain why the monkeys are close to overrunning my mind. I have been wondering if there's a way to apply mindfulness to the writing problem, though. Mindfulness, as I understand it, is paying full attention to what your doing, staying in the moment. "When you eat, just eat," is something I've read a few times in relation to this. I can recall trying this while cleaning a shower once, concentrating totally on what I was doing. I think what I was trying to do with that one was make cleaning the shower stall more tolerable. Last fall, though, during one of our family's trying episodes, I tried applying mindfulness to cleaning a kitchen counter and then keeping some clutter out of my bedroom. I made a conscious effort to stop everything I was doing or thinking about and give my full attention to these things--at the point that I was doing them--and the order I was able to impose on my life by completing those tasks was worth the effort.

Can mindfulness be used with writing, which involves more thought than collecting the junk that's piled up on the kitchen counter? (Or maybe it doesn't. Hmm.) Well, I can't offer a definitive answer, but I can tell you that others have given the matter some thought. Ohio State University offers Mindful Writing Practice in the Classroom as one of its Writing Across the Curriculum Resources.  It says of mindful writing "'mindful writing' asks that we engage in the activity of writing, in the process of writing, with intention and calm attentiveness. Engaging in 'mindful
' means that we are present in the moment, not thinking about other activities or things we should be doing and not judging ourselves if we happen to be struggling..."  In California, you can take mindful writing classes. You  can also take them in England. You can read Mindfulness Tips to Energize Your Writing. We could have taken part in a mindful writing challenge this past January.

I am not at all certain how this can help professional writers in the long term. And how, you may ask, does it apply to time management, at all? Last month, a writer told me in a comment that she works around an hour a day. She has published several books with traditional publishers. She made me start thinking about efficiency--using time efficiently. What I'm looking for with mindfulness is making writing more efficient, which should mean that we can do it in less time.

Am I on to something with this?

Monday, April 16, 2012

This Sounds Too Much Like Hosting

If you follow my personal Facebook page, not the professional one, you may be aware that last week I was stressing over what cake to order for a family event. (I promise you I would never talk about cake at the professional page. Nor would I post a picture of myself holding the cake that finally made it to the restaurant.) Anyway, I am not adept at hosting...anything. When I'm watching House Hunters and the home shoppers are touring houses and saying things like, "This room would be great for entertaining," I always think, That is the last thing I would think about if I were buying house. No, actually, it's not the last thing I would think about because I would never think about it. If my husband and I happen to both be in the room when one of those shows is on, we look at each other and go, "Who are these people? Is something wrong with them?"

Anyway, I was just over at Cynsations reading a post in which Greg Leitich Smith talks about planning a public event for a book launch. I got to  the part where he was talking about booking your facility and deciding whether you want to have a wine and cheese event or a "raucous hootinanny," and I could feel my tension level going up. Then I got to the pictures he took of the serving table he set up at his own book launch with close ups of various offerings, and I became just plain stressed.  (While I was eating lunch, by the way.) I don't know if I'll be able to work this afternoon.

You've probably guessed that I've never had a party to celebrate publication of any of my books. In fact, I'm quite certain I was cleaning toilets the day My Life Among the Aliens was published. I know. There are people who would say this speaks volumes about my career.

By the way, that unsettling post about book launches was entitled "Guest Post: Greg Leitich Smith on How to Plan a Book Launch (Part One)." Part One. That means there will be more on this subject coming up. I hope not right away. I need some recovery time.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Relaxing With Some Blog Reading

I have a few hours to wind down after a busy weekend, and what better way to do so than by cruising through a few NESCBWI blogs?

Nancy Cote is an illustrator with a number of books to her credit. According to her blog, she gets around to functions such as Book Expo America and the L.A. Times Book Fair. The blog is updated infrequently.

Michelle Cusolito is a pre-published author with educational experience. Her blog, Polliwog on Safari, focuses on nature and travel.

The Tech Curmudgeon describes itself as being "General ranting about technology, design, and why I should be a billionaire." That does seem to be what it's about. I couldn't find any background info there on its keeper, Peter Davis, and I'm not sure what the connection with children's writing and illustrating is.

Karen Day is the author of three middle grade novels. Her blog isn't updated frequently, but when it is she's usually writing about what she's doing professionally, where she'll be teaching at writers' conferences, for instance, or linking to journals covering her work.

Stacy DeKeyser is another published author.   Reading, Writing and Chocolate is her second blog with that name and has only existed in this form since 2011. She doesn't update often, but her posts are either about her work or writing in general.

That's about as much winding down as I can take for one weekend.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Working All The Time

I rarely work on weekends. It's not that I don't want to. One of the drawbacks of being on Facebook is that I do see other writers posting about putting in X number of hours on a Saturday or writing X number of pages on Sunday or just getting ready to hunker down with work on a weekend afternoon, and, believe it or not, I feel...not envious, but frustrated that I can't do it, too. But some would argue (and I am "some") that writers are working all the time, anyway, so it's all good.

Today I was up at 7:00 AM ironing an outfit for a family event tomorrow, then I went on to getting clean clothes out of the workshop (don't ask), cleaning a bathroom, putting clean sheets on a bed, stuffin' a chicken, pulling more crap off the kitchen counter, dusting the stairs...that's what I can remember off the top of my head. No thought about working at all. Then I had to rush to take a shower because I was late getting started to go visit an elder.

Once I was under the hot water, my mind wandered to this quite wonderful new first chapter I've written for a manuscript I'm very fond of but haven't been able to interest anyone else in. I've been revising it as an adult book so that I will have a whole new world of rejection opportunities. I did this totally new chapter to add on at the beginning as a first chapter. Oh, it is so very, very marvelous.

But, I realized a couple of days ago, it is also so very, very cliched. It is your classic family gathering for a funeral, which triggers an entire book/movie of memory. I've been trying to tell myself that that might not be a bad thing. I've been thinking lately that maybe people like cliches and stereotypes. I do not mean that in a jaded, Oh, you-cannot-underestimate-the-reading-public way. I've been thinking a lot recently about stories, what they actually are, and their significance to human experience. And I have been wondering if maybe stereotypical patterns are something that we like, that there is some comfort in recognizing the expected.

But not for me. I always like to be surprised. So I have been worried about what I believe is my stellar but cliched funeral chapter. Not this morning, though. I wasn't thinking about it at all this morning. I had that chicken to stuff. You don't want to be thinking about something else while you're shoving handfuls of soggy bread into a dead bird carcass.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, while in the shower, a new first chapter came to me. This will be a chapter that will do what the funeral first chapter did, but will also fit in with other events in the story. It will parallel the ending, even. The funeral chapter, in addition to be a cliche, sort of came out of nowhere.

Okay, I still have to write the chapter, and I may not get to that until Tuesday. But, still, Facebook Friends, I worked today!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Diana Wynne Jones Celebration

A Diana Wynne Jones blog tour is under way. You can follow it at Celebrate Diana Wynne Jones and see other material relating to her. I have a particular fondness for her Chrestomanci books, so  I was interested in the portrait of Chrestomanci  posted there. The blog tour begins at Chasing Ray (a blog I just haven't been able to visit much this past year), and I will be trying to keep Wynne Jones' Fire and Hemlock in mind as a possible read after seeing what Colleen had to say about it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Case Study In Working Hate For "The Hunger Games" For All It's Worth

For years I've read that writers would be wise to think of different ways to use the same material, writing a variety of pieces that can be marketed to several publications. For instance, if you have written a historical novel and have done a lot of research on the period involved, you could try writing a nonfiction article to be sold God only knows where. Or if you've written one of those women-escaping-from-life-by- heading-off-to-a-foreign-country-where-the-men-are-a-lot-hotter-than-they-are-here stories, you could try writing a travel piece on the country involved. Know something about dogs? Put the knowledge to work in an article for a dog publication and maybe another for a children's magazine.

I, of course, have trouble concentrating on one subject long enough to write one treatment. However, Gina Barreca, a professor at The University of Connecticut, shows us how this is done by managing two publications in twenty-four hours relating to her hatred of The Hunger Games.

I kid you not. In 12 Things Tenure-Track Faculty Can Learn From 'The Hunger Games' , published the day before yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Barreca begins by saying "I saw The Hunger Games and hated it." Talk about a lead. She's totally into making lemonade from lemons, because in her second paragraph she says, "But I do believe that there are lessons to be learned from the movie, important ones, and ones, most crucially, that will make the cinematic experience tax-deductible for me when I write about them." See? She's read some of those same how-to articles I have.

I don't actually understand all the things she says tenure-track faculty can learn from The Hunger Games, but I'm not a tenure-track faculty member. For instance, I can't figure out why Barreca would have loved to have seen Jennifer Lawrence "pick up a bowling ball and toss it around like a Hacky Sack." Huh? The tenure-track faculty who commented on the article loved it, though, except for the guy who called it (quote) a pile of crap (end of quote). So Gina knows what she's doing.

Okay, then, yesterday, Barreca's op-ed piece, "The Hunger Games" A Humorless Bore, appeared in The Hartford Courant. Here we learn that not only did she hate the movie, she hated the book, too. Barreca is still kind of academic here, making some literary references and complaining about Hunger Games' author Suzanne Collins' comma splices. I have to admit, when the book came out, there was talk on a listserv I frequented about the book's poor copy editing and grammatical errors. I am embarrassed to say that when I read it, most of them shot right by me.

Here's the line my core group of followers is going to love: "True, the books were written for kids who prefer short sentences and having words with more than three syllables defined in the most rudimentary ways." I considered writing a post about the irony of a feminist professor trashing an entire genre that women academics struggled to establish as a field of study, especially given UConn's history with the late Francelia Butler (see Leonard S. Marcus, Minders of Make-Believe page 254). But then I found Barreca's Chronicle of Higher Education piece, and the rest is history.

By the way, Barreca has promised another Hunger Games article for The Chronicle of Higher Education later this week. That will be three pieces of writing published in one week about something she hates. Personally, I think this is a brilliant achievement. I'm not kidding. I would like to do it, myself. And often. Like, maybe three times in one week.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Would Watch This Movie

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber   sounded like a movie thriller when I saw the review for it in The Horn Book  a while back, which is why I sought it out. Hey, I like thrillers. It also reads very much like a movie, so it's not surprising to read that movie rights sold around the same time that the book was accepted by its publisher.

The book is an entertaining mash up of two genres. First you have your traditional (or stereotypical) YA story of an older teen boy getting ready to head off to college soon and having problems with his successful, powerful, and demanding father. And, of course, the boy is in a rock band. Secondly, you have your traditional (or stereotypical) violent assassin who is actually seeking revenge for some terrible wrong. We've all read or seen those stories before. Putting them together in one place makes them if not actually new, at least more interesting and fun.

Okay, I feel a little bit of guilt about finding murder fun. Or, actually, I feel a little bit of guilt about not feeling guilty about it. But, it's a book, right? Lighten up, Gail.

Crazy European Chick has a lot of narrative drive and a wonderful female character who can always be counted on to pull a razor out of a sock or a helicopter out of thin air just when one is needed. She's not actually a YA character, the male lead is the YA character, but she's the one who makes the book.

Plot Project: This is definitely a plot that is dependent upon a disturbance early on. Young Perry is just your regular upper middle class YA guy who has been wait-listed at Columbia and is a member of a rock band. Then his mother and pushy father force him to take their incredibly dumpy eastern European exchange student to the prom. Gobi has big plans for prom night, but none of them have anything to do with dancing or going out drinking later. She needs Perry to drive her around from hit to hit in his father's fast, expensive car. Once Perry's life is disturbed, he's got to deal with the consequences for the rest of the book.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Can I Apply The Racing-From-Task-To-Task Method To Writing?

A few years back, some family members from Canada were coming to the U.S. and we were expecting them for a weekend visit. At the time, we had a family member nearby who was terminally ill and another one who had recently been hospitalized and done a few weeks in rehab. I was also pretending I was working through all this. My Canadian cousins, by the way, had recently experienced the death of a very young family member and had a  real need to try to clear their psyches after their months of dealing with illness and loss. (Seriously, can you believe my family? I once went to a funeral for two relatives. Okay, my aunt had had an earlier funeral, so this was icing on the cake for her, but since I'd gone to her earlier service, too, that means I went to two funerals for the same person. You can't make this stuff up. I can't, anyway.)

What does this have to do with time management, you may well ask? Okay, my cousins are arriving late in the afternoon, my house is wrecked, and I'm planning a dinner for multiple local family members to get together with the Canadians because they don't come down here that often. Every public room needed to be cleaned, as well as both bathrooms, the guest room needed to be prepared, and that dinner had to be made. Where to begin?

What was my best plan of attack when I had so many tasks to do and limited time to do them in? Do I work in a logical order, completing one task at a time and then go on to another? What if I end up not being able to do everything working that way? That was a very real possibility. The meal was a priority, of course, but what if I cleaned the living room and dining room and didn't get to the guest room? What if I did the guest room and bathroom and didn't get to the living room, which everyone was going to see?

What I ended up doing was running all day and just doing whatever caught my eye as I raced through the house, cutting in and out of the kitchen to work on the various parts of the meal. And, if memory serves me, everything was just about done when the house guests arrived. I did not prioritize anything. I did not finish one room before moving to another. I just ran and grabbed, ran and vacuumed, ran and dusted, ran and ran and ran, always doing something as I moved.

I learned something significant from this experience: When you have huge numbers of tasks to do, you don't have to be particularly organized about doing them so long as you keep doing them. When there is so very much to do, anything you do is an improvement. So long as you keep working, the number of tasks will go down.

I realized recently that that is what I've been doing since I started back to work at the end of January. I'm not under contract right now, so I don't have a publisher-imposed deadline, which would take priority over any other tasks. Instead, I'm working on: 1. making submissions, 2. sometimes revising old material before making those submissions, 3. revising a book length manuscript--moving it from a children's book to an adult book, 4. creative nonfiction research that will impact both a blog tour I'm taking part in and a totally new book project I'm thinking about, 5. general writing research that will impact several aspects of my work life, 6. some blog changes that are going very slowly, 7. planning for a possible republication of one of my out-of-print books in an e-book format, 8. marketing research and activity, 8. visits with a 5th grade writing group,  9. no doubt other things I've forgotten, and 10. other things that might come up.

Making the decision to focus all my time and energy on any one of those tasks to the exclusion of the others could easily be a serious mistake. Working totally on revising and submitting completed work, for instance, would be a mistake if nothing is accepted. I could have used that time and energy to revise the book-length manuscript. Except that's a gamble, too, because except for a few essays, I've never published anything for adults. Perhaps I should be working on the new project I've been thinking about. But should I be working on new work while I have completed work to sell? Computer Guy and I need to do some research before making a decision about the e-book project. If things fall into place and we go ahead with it, that will be the time for me to be focusing on that. But should I focus everything on that for a while when the time comes, because that's very experimental in terms of what good it will do me professionally? Shouldn't I continue doing other things that are more promising at the same time?

Thus, for the time being I keep managing my time by racing from task to task.

Anyone with experience working like this?

Friday, April 06, 2012

My Experience With Lucy Calkins

So I finished my skim of Writing Fiction: Big Dreams, Tall Ambitions by Lucy Calkins. It's not what a nonteacher would call riveting reading because it models lesson plans with some coaching on the side by Lucy. Plus, I don't imagine even many teachers would sit down and try to get through one of these books as quickly as possible. They probably do their serious reading on a lesson-by-lesson need.

Calkins covers some very real and even sophisticated writing material here on character development, plotting, planning scenes, and doing drafts. I have no idea how well elementary school children are able to absorb and use this, but it seems as if Calkins could do a general intro to writing book that older writers might find useful.

She quotes many, many writing books in the coaching material. I read this in front of a computer and kept going on-line to find the authors quoted and their books. I wish there'd been a bibliography with Calkins' book. However, the one I read is part of a set on writing lesson plans. Maybe there's a bibliography somewhere for the whole set.

Calkins talks a great deal about the story format of giving a character something to want and then putting up obstructions to them getting it. "The core structure of a short story, in a nutshell, is that a character wants or needs something (or needs to learn something) and then encounters obstacles in reaching this goal." After hearing her talk about this over and over again, I started thinking about  Rust Hill, who said over and over again in Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular that stories are about "something that happened to somebody." When I find my copy of his book, I'm going to reread it, because a story being about "something that happened to somebody" is making a lot more sense to me right now than a story being about  a "character [who] wants or needs something (or needs to learn something) and then encounters obstacles in reaching this goal."

Calkins definitely puts on...pressure...for teachers and students to stick to writing her preferred type of fiction--realistic,  problem-based, social issue types of things. When discussing where writers get ideas, she says, "Teach them, too, that fiction writers read newspapers and watch the news on TV, noticing ways in which the world feels unfair for some people." Many, many writers get ideas from newspapers. I don't think we're looking only for story ideas relating to people being treated unfairly, though. That is a story idea that certainly has some dramatic potential, but it is also just one particular type of story. I think more often we're  looking for ideas that lend themselves to a story format or frame in which, well, something happens to somebody.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Thinking Of Reading...Or Writing...A Trilogy?

Last night I finished reading the third volume of a trilogy, one of those kinds with a story arch that covers the whole three books. Some thoughts:

1. There are very few stories that truly need multiple volumes in order to tell the tale. Seriously. Or maybe I'm the only one who notices all the padding and rambling about that goes on in some of these things. And that may be the case, since there are so many trilogies out there.

2. People in love are not very interesting. Okay, maybe if there is something beyond the love story itself to distract me, I can tolerate one volume of getting together. But once they are a couple in love, going on and on being in love, my patience wears thin.

3. What was really fascinating about the third book was that there was another story that really, desperately wanted to be told. I can't remember when I've read a book in which another character and another relationship vied for dominance the way a character and his relationship with the male protagonist did in this one. It would have been a far, far more interesting story than the romance, in my very humble opinion. But the author was trapped because she'd made a commitment to the romance in book one and what could she do about it now? I have to hand it to her for sticking with the program.

This is one of those cases in which I wasn't crazy about the book, but the experience of reading it was valuable.

Down At The Stop & Shop

A big chunk of my author networking takes place at the local Stop & Shop where I occasionally run into Lynda Mullaly Hunt. We met today near the florist section and managed to get in a few words, though we both were on our way to serious commitments. (Hers relating to family, mine to laundry.)

So what do Lynda and I talk about in the Stop & Shop aisles? Writer events, school appearances, book marketing, and today, in particular, book trailers. Here's one Lynda has just completed for her book, One for the Murphys, which comes out next month. I met Lynda in a writers' group years ago, and I'm not sure, but I think I saw some early pages of this story then.

And look! Lynda has a video. Now I know I've been pronouncing her name wrong.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Starting The "C" Name Blogs

I want some credit, folks. I am only on the "C" names in the list of NESCBWI blogs, and yet I keep on keeping on.

Lori Calabrese is an author who blogs at Lori Calabrese. She does book reviews, and once a week she does a round-up of blog book giveaways called Fish for a Free Book. This seems like a marvelous idea that bloggers and readers could be taking advantage of. She also has a section at her blog for authors that includes links of interest, organized by topic.

Martha Calderaro's blog, subtitled Notes Along the Road of a Children's Writer, Poet & Book Lover, looks as if it's updated once or twice a month and focuses on poetry.

Melanie Linden Chan's blog, It's a Hoot, focuses on her journey to becoming a children's book illustrator. She does book reviews but also, as one would expect from an illustrator, posts on her work as an illustrator. Research and process! In fact, she has a number of easy to find process posts. And she's not afraid to post about rejection, which she is able to write about without angst and misery. I'm going to be going back to this blog in the future because it looks as if Melanie might have some material related to something I'm thinking about writing about on Time Management Tuesday sometime soon.

Melanie Linden Chan also posts at Drawing Together, "A group blog by and about children's book writers and illustrators affiliated with the RISD-CE Children's Book Illustration Program."

Well, there are only two C names left, and I ought to just do them. But some professional reading awaits, as well as a revision. A bientot, NESCBWI blogs.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Save Your Money, Mom

I finally got around to reading Young Writers Dazzle Publisher (Mom and Dad). I totally agree with Tom Robbins, who was quoted in the article.

“What’s next?” asked the novelist Tom Robbins. “Kiddie architects, juvenile dentists, 11-year-old rocket scientists? Any parent who thinks that the crafting of engrossing, meaningful, publishable fiction requires less talent and experience than designing a house, extracting a wisdom tooth, or supervising a lunar probe is, frankly, delusional.” 

I've made similar analogies when discussing the subject of children self-publishing. No one would dream of suggesting a twelve- or thirteen-year-old start practicing medicine.
When adults encourage children to believe that with just a few years of part-time training through their English classes they are ready to "publish" in any kind of meaningful way, they are teaching them that they don't have to meet any standards other than their own or, since they've been in school such a short time, even learn them. Unless things change in the publishing world (and, of course, they could), this paid publication will not open any doors for young writers when they're older. Traditional publishers pick up self-published authors because those self-published authors somehow managed to make tens of thousands of sales. KidPub Press founder and publisher "Perry Donham, said it was “pretty unusual” for a KidPub author to sell more than 50 copies on Amazon."

With any luck, these children will move on from writing to some other field of interest. If not, they're in for a cruel surprise down the line when they try to make their way in the real publishing world, at least as it now exists.

Maureen Johnson has a very good take on this issue at So I Read A Piece In The New York Times.

Thanks to Liz B a Tea Cozy for the Johnson link. Liz has a post on this issue relating to Libraries and self-published books 

Time Management Tuesday: If Only We Could Treat Time Like Money

We often talk about time using the same terms we use when we talk about money. "Saving time/saving money." "Wasting time/wasting money." How often have you heard someone talk about "time being money." In our family, we sometimes have to determine what we have more of at any given point--time or money--and spend one or the other accordingly.

A couple of months ago, I was reading an article about the classic envelope method for budgeting money: you divide up the money you have coming in on payday into envelopes for your known expenses. If you've put too much money into an envelope and don't need it all, you get to save it and build up some money for other uses.

If only I could do that with time, I thought.

The May issue of Yoga Journal had a brief article called The Buck Stops Here: 4 Steps to Create a Better Budget (I kid you not) that also made me think of managing time.

1 "Identify Your Values." Writing down the things that mattered most to you is supposed to "clarify the purpose of money in your life." You could just as easily use the word "time" as "money" here.

2.  "Look at Your Habits." This involved looking at your last three months of expenses and cash flow. Again, couldn't people look at how they've been spending their time recently?

3.  "Observe Without Judgment." The point of the article was to ask readers to determine (without getting all hopped up about it) whether or not their spending habits "aligned with your values." Again, do this while thinking about time. Are our time habits aligned with our values?

4.  "Identify Action Steps." "Think about changes you can make to align your money use with your values." Replace "money" with "time."

Of course, if that had been a time management article instead of a money management article, I would have wanted a lot more than a paragraph for "Identify Action Steps." I'd want a freaking book.

Yes, seeing time management everywhere is probably a sign of obsession. But I'm accustomed to being obsessed about one thing or another. Doesn't bother me at all.

Monday, April 02, 2012

A Critique Of Lucy Calkins' Methods--But Not By Me

I'm going to be skimming Writing Fiction: Big Dreams, Tall Ambitions by Lucy Calkins, since the student writers' workshop I'll be taking part in was designed around it. I have heard of Calkins, but before I started my read, I did a little Internet snooping to find out more.

Of course, I came upon a not entirely favorable critique of Calkins and her methods, because I'm Gail. I'm always going to find the fly in the ointment. It's not my fault. This stuff just comes to me. I'm a complaint magnet.

What is incredibly interesting about the critique in question, The Lucy Calkins Project, and the reason I'm writing about it here, is that it was written by Barbara Feinberg.  Barbara Feinberg also wrote Welcome to Lizard Motel, a critique of YA problem books. I didn't recognize her name under the title of the article, but there was something about the writing style that was familiar to me, even after seven years, and I was beginning to think of Lizard Motel by the time I got to the author note at the end.

I did a readers' journal of my reading of Welcome to Lizard Motel here at OC, beginning at the end of April, 2005. Missed it?

Organic Me

Later this week, I start doing six, thirty-minute weekly sessions at an elementary school. First up, I'm going to be talking about my writing process. Years ago, even after I started publishing, I didn't know what the hell a writing process was. Now, I know all too well. Over the last four or five years, I've spent a lot of time tinkering with mine, trying to improve it.

I know I'm an organic writer, something I don't find that much written about. It's like a condition that impacts how I work. The Organic Craftsman by Melody Chan does an excellent job of explaining what I consider my basic writing problem. My " method of composition is inefficient, especially when an author starts with only a vague impression, a feeling, or one single moment in mind around which to build an entire novel." Many of my books did start with nothing but a brief scene or a situation in which there is no action. Seriously, with a couple of books I had nothing more than, "I want to write a historical novel." "I want to write a book for younger children."

I realized very recently, that my ideas don't come to me with a story. The story has to grow out of the idea. Hence, the "organic" name works quite well for me. That's what I've been struggling with these last few years, ways to deal with that lack of defined story.

So, I'm going to talk to fifth- and sixth-graders about that?